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Issue 36 - From Russia with love...

Whisky Magazine Issue 36
December 2003

 

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From Russia with love...

Vodka is the drink of choice for the average Russian but whisky has its fans. How did it get there? Erkin Touzmohamedov recounts the strange case of whisky and Stalin

I had my first dram when I was 12. My father was a diplomat and was one of few Soviets in the mid 70s who had a chance to see the world and – as a side effect – to virtually have a taste of it.

And he's seen and tasted most of it!

One of the tastes my father got to love was whisky, which he discovered in 1955, while working on his first foreign task
as the attaché in the Soviet Embassy
in Thailand.

Always there were some whisky bottles hidden in his room. Naturally there were no malts then – basically those were blends, established international brands such as Ballantine's, Johnnie Walker, Chivas and occasional Canadian or bourbon.

Well, my first dram was a Suntory – the bottle looked fanciest of them all. The taste really struck me then and it's a sensation I still remember.

It was love at first taste. I'd pour in some tea to replenish the contents; if my father noticed anything, he never told me.

Whisky in Russia and later in the USSR was an completely unknown drink. Russians drink a lot, but the virtue of a drink – vodka – always lay in its purity: the more neutral, refined, the better.

And the Russians are shot drinkers, not sippers. Until lately even ‘cognac' (actually a fine brandy from Armenia or Georgia
– they still call it ‘cognac,' not brandy) was consumed in shots and from small sized glass.

You don't have to age vodka – no warehouses, no barrels, no blending; just distill, bottle, advertise and sell…

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